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2 Irish die in NZ quake

TWO Irishmen were killed in the devastating earthquake in New Zealand, it was confirmed today.

There were also grave concerns about two other Irish citizens who still remain unaccounted for.

One of the dead men, a nurse in his mid-40s from Co Monaghan, has been named as Owen McKenna.

He was married to a New Zealand woman but moved to the city of Christchurch six years ago.

The other victim was married to an Irish woman and it is reported that he was originally from the North.

Both men were permanent residents in the city. “We have serious concerns about a further two and we have general concerns for a further 10," a Dept of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said. Amid the carnage in New Zealand's second city, where thousands of Irish people live, details have emerged of a miraculous escape for two Dublin sisters.

Emily and Leah Heron from Swords were "blessed" to get out of the city unscathed after the 6.3 magnitude quake hit on Tuesday at 12.51pm local time yesterday. Leah told how she ran for her life as her office building began to crumble in the quake.

"We just ran as fast as we could, there were whole buildings flattened in the city centre and bodies on the street ... just horrific," the 24-year-old told the Herald.

New Zealand prime minister John Key said police have confirmed 75 deaths following the 6.3 magnitude quake, which struck 10km southeast of the city.

The Dept of Foreign Affairs says 200 Irish nationals are registered in Christchurch.

The families of the Irish dead were told of their deaths earlier this morning.

Rodney Walshe, the Honorary Consul General in New Zealand, confirmed the deaths. "I'm sad to say those are two who have deceased," Mr Walshe said.

"The families know. I've spoken to both families and they are fully aware of the situation," Mr Walshe said.

Painter and decorator Gareth Woods (33), who is from Drogheda, told the Herald he was working in a local school when the disaster happened.

"I was in a school in the southside of the city, in a big, empty classroom, when the whole place shook," he said.

"All the kids were outside having their lunch. They were screaming and crying," added the married father of two.

Mr Woods, who plays GAA with Christchurch GAA club, said any of the Irish people he knows are safe and well.

A Donegal man, hurler Patrick McGowan, has been described as a hero after he pulled a woman trapped under rubble. The 26-year-old also freed a trapped man but he later tragically died from his injuries.

One of the saddest stories to emerge involved the death of a woman who was killed with a baby in her arms when she was hit by falling debris. The death toll is expected to rise again as many people remain trapped in the rubble, with more than 300 people still missing.


More than 200 people were admitted to Christchurch Hospital with injuries. The city was hit by a number of aftershocks, including one of magnitude 4.7 at 3.04am and one of magnitude 4.6 at 3.30am.

The iconic Christchurch Cathedral was also destroyed, with its spire sprawled out over Cathedral Square. Police said there was "incredible carnage right throughout the city" with "bodies littering the streets".

48 people were pulled out from collapsed buildings alive overnight.

The earthquake struck at a shallow depth of 5km on Tuesday lunchtime (1am Irish time). It was Christchurch's second major tremor in five months, and New Zealand's deadliest natural disaster in 80 years.

Superintendent Russell Gibson said: "It's quite amazing, we have some people we've pulled out and they haven't got so much as a scratch on them, we've had other people where we've had to amputate limbs to get them out."

Meanwhile, Irish and other visitors whose temporary visa applications can't be processed because of the Christchurch earthquake will get an automatic six month visa extension, the NZ Immigration Minister has confirmed.